Therapeutic dancing – what is it?

Find out more about therapeutic dancing in our brief guide.

Everyone likes to get their groove on now and again, whether it's at a summer music festival, a wedding reception or simply out on the town on a Friday night.

You probably realise that it's quite good for you (unless you resort to moves so bad that they cause you untold embarrassment, of course), as dancing can tone you up, get your heart beating faster and release endorphins that make you feel good to be alive.

However, did you know that there's an entire school of thought suggesting that dancing can be used as a form of therapy and to protect your psychological wellbeing?

Dance and movement therapy (DMT) is defined as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to support the body's intellectual, emotional and motor functions. It involves four stages: preparation, incubation, illumination and evaluation.

The history of DMT

Using dance for therapeutic reasons is by no means a new thing. Indeed, people have been practising it for thousands of years to influence everything from fertility to a safe passage to the afterlife. For instance, medicine men from tribes in Native America used to use elaborate dances in order to heal people of their ills.

However, DMT as we know it today emerged in the 1950s and became increasingly popular in the decades afterwards, particularly during the hippy movement of the 1960s and the renewed emphasis on the importance of wellbeing in the 1990s.

It is based on the idea that the body and mind are not two separate entities, but instead act as one and can therefore influence each other.

Participants can use it to gain a deeper sense of self-awareness through an almost meditative process, as well as to enjoy improvements in their social skills and how well they can relate to others.

What happens in the four stages?

The first stage of therapeutic dancing involves preparation or warming up. Just as you would in a dance or exercise class, you're required to loosen up your limbs and prepare your muscles for the work they are about to do. 

However, you'll also be encouraged to prepare psychologically. The room and your area will be established as a safe place in which you can feel free to express yourself without being inhibited in any way.

The second stage is incubation. By now, you should be fully relaxed and have let go of conscious muscle control. Your movements will now have become symbolic of your inner state of mind.

During the illumination stage, the meanings of your movements will become apparent and can begin to take effect upon you, whether this is a positive of negative impact. The teacher will help to guide you through this stage and help you to deal with anything that crops up that you find difficult to deal with.

Finally, the evaluation part will be carried out in which you discuss the significance of your session with the group or your teacher and set out any goals you could try out before the next appointment. You will finally prepare to end the session in a state of calm and by letting go of any negativity you have been carrying.

What effects can therapeutic dance have?

Focusing on the music and your movements during DMT could have the potential to reduce physical pain, decrease anxiety and boost relaxation, making it suitable for anyone who has been struggling with elevated stress levels lately.

It can also help with non-verbal communication, which allows the expression of feelings without needing to resort to words, something that many people could find useful if they tend to bottle things up.

Of course, because dancing is a physical activity, you can enjoy the associated benefits to your body too, which include better cognitive processes, easier weight control, glucose regulation and a boost to the circulatory, respiratory, skeletal and muscular systems.

Research has not yet been able to prove that DMT is able to reduce the effects of serious illnesses, but some patients have said anecdotally that they have felt a reduction in their symptoms after trying out dance therapy.

It is likely to be most useful for anyone experiencing emotional distress, relationship woes, body image problems and difficulties coping with transition in their lives.

How can I find out more about DMT?

The Association for Dance Movement Therapy United Kingdom (ADMP UK) accredits therapists and ensures that all health-related regulations are followed during therapy sessions and you can track down practitioners in your area via the website.

Teachers will need a master's degree and at least 700 hours of supervised clinical training before they can be classed as one of the country's Dance Therapists Registered, so always check for ADMP UK accreditation before you start any sessions.

Advanced-level therapists will have completed 3,640 hours of supervised clinical work in an agency, institution, or special school.

You should be able to do all types of dancing, including Turkish, ballroom, line and many more, so there will be a therapeutic dance for almost everyone – why not try it out?

And if you do uncover wellbeing issues that you'd like to explore further, do give one of our experienced life coaches a call.

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